Behind the scenes of the Presidential Portraits Tour

This week’s post was written by Caroline Turner ’17, a volunteer in the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections and a future archivist!

When I first heard the presidential portraits were getting moved out of the library, I was initially stunned and more than a little unnerved. How would I be able to work on the first floor without the presidents smiling down encouragingly (or glaring down ominously)? To me, the portraits represented Davidson’s leadership and tradition as well as the college’s arc through time. As a history and art history double major, I felt like the portraits held a special place all together on the library wall, watching all the students working (or socializing). But as I found out more about the project, I knew I wanted to get involved.

Former Presidential library corner with portraits of previous presidents

Former Presidential library corner

Portrait of Walter Lingle sitting in a chair with a book under his hand

Portrait of Walter Lingle – holding students to higher standards.

I work with Jan Blodgett in the Archives on the second floor of the library, and with Lia Newman in the College Art Galleries over in the VAC. By working in both environments, I had learned the tools of both trades, which would come in handy as I navigated between the art and the history. I was tasked with researching each president and his experience at Davidson and then writing the accompanying label for the portrait, including information about the president’s life and presidency, as well as tidbits about the artist and portrait itself. Each president would be given a new place of honor based on his personal legacy, and I would connect the place to the president in the label.

I worked from most recent president (Thomas Warren Ross), backwards. I began by pulling out each president’s clipping file from the archives and reading through. I expected to quickly find, somewhere near the back of the file, a summary of each president’s contributions to Davidson, perhaps with an announcement of his retirement. But as I opened each file, I found masses of information and I quickly forgot my plan to skip to the back. Often there were cautious announcements of the new president, clipped from The Davidsonian and The Charlotte Observer. Who was he? What will he do? What has his experience been? Then I found invitations to inaugurations, wrapped in tissue paper. Then came the pictures of each president at athletic events, the Cake Races, and speaking at Commencements. These middle pieces were filled with gems.

Tom Ross penned this Davidsonian article to introduce himself, "12 things you want to know about Tom Ross"

Tom Ross penned this Davidsonian article to introduce himself.

One of my personal favorite finds was a debacle resulting from President Bobby Vagt hosting a party for graduating seniors. The Charlotte Observer wrote an article titled “Beer, pizza at college bash? Yes, and president’s buying,” in which the author tsked tsked for a president caring more about being popular among, and having fun with, students than about being respected and attending to important college business. Comments streamed in supporting President Vagt, and admiring his dance moves. One local said parents should be grateful their children were attending parties with the “best qualified chaperone.” It was clear from the other notes and Davidsonian articles that I found in President Vagt’s file that the students held him in high regard.


Charlotte Observer headline, "Beer, pizza at college bash? Yes, and president's buying"

Charlotte Observer headline

President Vagt in a more serious pose leaning on a chair

President Vagt in a more serious pose


Another fun moment for me was finding out that one of the portraitists never existed. When I got to Dr. Grier Martin’s portrait, I searched for information on the artist, Charles J. Fox. I found some scanty information on how he was a New York businessman and artist, but not a whole lot more. But then I found that Charles J. Fox was actually a pseudonym for Leo Fox, who was actually a New York businessman. He had photographs sent to him for portraits but then sent them right on to Irving Resnikoff, a Russian immigrant. Resnikoff was trained as an artist in St. Petersburg and left Russia in 1917 to go to New York City. He never met any of the people he depicted in portraits, which included many leading figures in government, including John F. Kennedy as well as our President Martin.


D. Grier Martin portrait with his cap and gown on

D. Grier Martin portrait.

I also enjoyed delving deeper into the history of Davidson and realizing how different the College was in its earlier days. I had to blink when I read one quote from a student who said that Reverend John Rood Cunningham “possessed a magnetic presence when riding his horse” and I suppressed a chuckle when I read that President Morrison (who reigned over Davidson from 1836-1840) was in charge of corporal punishment of the 60 boys that attended. He accompanied his physical punishment with a long prayer for the penitence of the sinning boy. One source noted that many boys simply requested two beatings if they could skip the prayer.

Davidson's first president as painted by his daughter. in a golden picture frame

Davidson’s first president as painted by his daughter.

I found that poring over the presidencies gave each president a more individual life. No longer were they a row of former presidents scolding me for going on Facebook when I should be writing my history essay. Now I think of Reverend Cunningham when I pass by Belk, which was built during his presidency. I think of  the raving reviews of students and faculty alike of President Vagt’s “Donut Wednesdays” when I pass through Chambers lobby. I think of Dr. Kuykendall when a friend discusses their Dean Rusk grant, since the Dean Rusk Program was established under his leadership.

To me, the presidents have become individual leaders and representations of Davidson’s evolution. I hope that their placement and labels encourage students to learn more about the College’s history and connect more with each president. Hopefully the presidential portraits will no longer be just faces of presidents past, but instead will become individuals with stories and experiences that connect with current students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

Digitizing “An Old Family Friend”: The Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr. Scrapbook

This week’s post was written by Nancy Lingle, a volunteer in the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections. Nancy is a May 2016 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Masters of Library and Information Studies degree, and works at the Davidson Branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library.

Photos from a road trip with college buddies. The scores from an all-important football game.  Notes about family and friends.  An advertisement for shoes for $16.50.  Ticket stubs from a concert.  For many of us, these phrases sounds like things we might see on a typical Facebook or Instagram post.  But in this case I’m describing a book; to be more specific – a scrapbook from a member of the Davidson College Class of 1929. A scrapbook that does not belong to my family, but now feels like an old family friend.

Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr's senior portrait, from the 1929 Quips and Cranks.

Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr’s senior portrait, from the 1929 Quips and Cranks.

I came to know this scrapbook through a class assignment.  I am not a Davidson College student.  (In fact, based on my SAT scores, I’m pretty sure I would never have been admitted.) In pursuit of my MLIS degree at UNCG, I took a class in digital libraries. One option for my final class assignment was to find a local library and ask to work on one of their digital projects.  As a resident of Davidson and having been married to someone with long ties to the college, I was familiar with the archival work that the Davidson College Library had produced.  With fingers crossed, I emailed Jan Blodgett, the college archivist, and offered my services.  Jan, along with Sharon Byrd and Caitlin Christian-Lamb graciously tossed around some possible project ideas that I could work on.  They came up with digitizing a scrapbook, one of the 279 that have been collected by or donated to Davidson over the years. These scrapbooks are stored in the college archives – a veritable treasure trove of documents, photographs and other ephemera related to town and gown.

At first, I was slightly surprised by their choice of this project. With all the “important” books, manuscripts and photos that need to be digitized, I thought digitizing a personal scrapbook was something that should possibly be further down on the priority list.  How wrong I was.

Advertisement for women's shoes for $12.50 to $16.50 , from a program for "The Girl Friend" at the Auditorium Theatre pasted onto page 79 of Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr.'s scrapbook.

Advertisement for women’s shoes for $12.50 to $16.50 , from a program for “The Girl Friend” at the Auditorium Theatre pasted onto page 79 of Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr.’s scrapbook.

Why scrapbooks?  The reasons are many. Scrapbooks give us a more personal account of a period in history.  We can see what was important to an individual at a given time.  Newspaper articles, dance cards, photos showing clothing, hats and shoes all come together to paint a detailed picture and give us a higher degree of insight than a standard text book can offer. Digitizing a scrapbook, while adding descriptive and searchable metadata, adds to our collective resources and knowledge sharing abilities.  By making these resources available to the public, we can give others the opportunity to access material that would otherwise be nearly impossible to see.  Many college and university libraries have been working on digitizing their scrapbook collections. These scrapbooks are in very fragile states; their aging pages crumbling, disintegrating a little more every time we open each archival box. Preserving them for future generations is a worthy task.

The Process

Caitlin was very familiar with the Davidson scrapbook collection.   She herself had worked on a similar project when she was a graduate student at Simmons College so she understood with great clarity the details involved.  Of all the choices under consideration, we decided to digitize the scrapbook of Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr. It had lots of nice details, many different types of items and at 82 pages, it seemed the perfect length. The goal was to preserve the scrapbook in a way that makes you feel like you are turning the pages of the actual item – viewing the scrapbook as it was intended to be seen.

Page 25 of the Brown scrapbook, with photographs of many Davidson College campus buildings and hand-drawn animals (including two wildcats).

Page 25 of the Brown scrapbook, with photographs of many Davidson College campus buildings and hand-drawn animals (including two wildcats).

First came scanning. Each page of the scrapbook (and each page of each pamphlet or brochure within each page) was scanned and saved as a TIFF file.  The pages had to placed carefully on the scanner in an effort to keep them as intact as possible.  Sometimes we found pages stuck together either due to the adhesive (mucilage) or a staple.  Caitlin, using a scalpel with surgeon-like precision, removed the staples so we could easily access the individual pages. Sometimes items fell off.  Often I had to lift one delicate yellowed newspaper clipping to access another one beneath it.  One time, a headline that had lain folded for umpteen years crumbled in my hand.  While I felt terrible, it also made me realize how important it is to scan these documents so they can be preserved before more disintegration takes place. It turns out this 82-page scrapbook was really 311 pages when all was said and done. Scanning took 24.75 hours.

TIFF files are wonderful at preserving details but are also very large. The Omeka site we were using to host this project has a limitation in file size, so I converted each TIFF to a JPEG.  This is a fairly easy process and took only 5.5 hours.

Next, using Dublin Core, I added metadata to each page so the information could be found.  Some pages were relatively easy since they contained only one or two items.  When questions arose, Sharon patiently looked over my shoulder and help guide me to the correct description. The pages that were most challenging were ones that held copies of plays and programs containing the names of the actors, dancers and musicians.  Since our goal was to make the items searchable, I had to add each name that I found on each page. Mr. Brown loved to attend plays.  On page 79 there are 5 different play programs.  Since I was working on this project only 5-6 hours per week, it would occasionally take me that amount of time to add the metadata for just one page. Total time for adding metadata:  32 hours.

Page 79 of the Brown scrapbook - five play programs an a newspaper clipping with the heading, "New Light On Wildcat-P.C. Row

Page 79 of the Brown scrapbook – five play programs and a whole lot more!

Finally, as I was wrapping up my semester, the metadata was complete.  With Caitlin’s expertise and guidance, we turned the project live (8.25 hours) just days before my semester ended.  Total time to digitize the Aubrey Neblett Brown Jr. scrapbook: 70.5 hours.

What Did I Learn?

Academically, I learned about the digitization processes, about different hosting sites, about the ways different institutions use Dublin Core as a metadata scheme, all the variables involved and the decisions that need to be made when creating a digital library project.

I also learned about life in Davidson from 1924 – 1929.  I learned that Mr. Brown kept a tidy room – there’s a note from Mrs. Black the dormitory supervisor telling him so. (Personally, as the mother of a college-age son, I find this extremely hard to believe.)  Photos told me who Mr. Brown’s friends were and what they did for fun; from building a snowman to attending plays and debates as well as coming up with the attributes for the “ideal woman”. I learned that Efird’s Department Store in Charlotte sold almost everything and that even though the Ziegfeld Follies were famous, the creators of the brochures still spelled that eponymous name incorrectly (as “Ziegfield”).  Among the various letters and cards there was a note about Mr. Brown’s disappointment over the new college president, Dr. Walter Lee Lingle, my husband’s grandfather, and how he wished it could have been someone from outside and not a Davidson graduate who was taking on the position.  (No hard feelings – I promise.)

Page 27 from the Brown scrapbook, showing scenes around campus (including snowman-building and one of the livve wildcat mascots.

Page 27 from the Brown scrapbook, showing scenes around campus (including snowman-building and one of the live wildcat mascots).

Mr. Brown’s documentation of the road trip he took with friends back home to Mineral Wells, Texas was one of the highlights of the scrapbook.  There are photos of the car (which he later sold for $60.00), a map of their route, and postcards he acquired at places he stopped along the way.  It was amazing to me that these postcards, many in color, have retained their vibrancy even after all these years.

What I felt the most as I delved into this scrapbook was the sense of innocence, the love of family and friends, the love of sports, the overall “collegiate spirit” vibe that I felt during my own undergraduate days and see now with my son and his friends.  This “innocence of youth” of Mr. Brown and his friends is juxtaposed with an impeding sense of sadness since we know what is about to happen in the world later on in his 1929 graduation year.

A few weeks ago I ran into William Brown at the Davidson Public Library where I currently work. William is the son of our scrapbook creator and the Director of the Knobloch Campus Center and Student Activities at Davidson.  I told him about the project and thanked him for sharing such a wonderful resource with the college archives and now, thanks to digitization, with anyone who is interested.  He smiled and he talked about that road trip his father took to Mineral Wells.  It turns out that his father didn’t return home again for over 50 years.  When he did, things had changed so much that nothing seemed familiar. Having access to those photos and postcards now seems even more poignant.

Pages 53 and 55 of the scrapbook, detailing the road trip from Davidson to Mineral Wells, TX and including a newspaper clip advertising Brown's sale of the group's 1922 Ford Model T.

Pages 53 and 55 of the scrapbook, detailing the road trip from Davidson to Mineral Wells, TX and including a newspaper clip advertising Brown’s sale of the group’s 1922 Ford Model T.

The Future

Now with one scrapbook project under their belts, I hope that the Archives and Special Collections Department can continue this project with the help of students and volunteers.  Knowing the time and resources it takes to digitize one scrapbook; from computers and scanners to hosting space and librarian oversight, the archivists can better plan how this project fits in with their other projects and goals.

Many thanks to Jan, Sharon, and Caitlin for their guidance, support and allowing me to work with them on bringing this scrapbook to digital life.  You can access the digital version of the Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr. scrapbook here.

Davidson’s imbibable past

This week’s post is written by Dr. Anelise Hanson Shrout, the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Studies.

Lewis Bell came to Davidson College in 1865 and graduated in 1870. Though he was a student during the Reconstruction Era, it is likely that most of his college experiences were mundane. He was a member of the Eumenean Literary Society. Among his papers held in the college archive is a donation request from the society from the year after he graduated. Like many Davidson students, he also seems to have been concerned with his grades. His papers also contain a list of Davidson College students and their grade averages from 1865 to 1868. We know little more about Bell’s time at Davidson, except that he also seemed to have an interest in spirituous liquors. A final item in the John Lewis Bell collection is a well-used recipe for “Mother’s Bitters,” which was comprised of “tanzy, Wormwood and Barbary Root, a good handful of Star root, the same of Columbo and Chamomile.”

recipe for “Mother’s Bitters", that states, “tanzy, Wormwood and Barbary Root, a good handful of Star root, the same of Columbo and Chamomile.”

Bitters are an aromatic flavoring agent, made by infusing roots, bark, fruit peels, herbs, flowers and botanicals in alcohol. These spirits are used in fancy craft cocktails today, but were historically put to more medicinal purposes. In his history of bitters, Brad Thomas Parsons situates these infused spirits in a long history of “a cure for whatever ailed you” – beginning with Stroughton Bitters, which were patented in 1712, and which contained “1/2 drachm cochineal, 1 pint alcohol, ½ canella bark, ½ ounce cardamoms” and were made by being left to “stand eight days; draw it off clear and bottle it. For medicinal purposes use French Brandy instead of alcohol.” (From Monzert, Leonard. The Independent Liquorist: Or, The Art of Manufacturing and Preparing All Kinds of Cordials, Syrups, Bitters, Wines … John F. Trow & Company, 1866.)

Why would Bell have kept a recipe for bitters amongst his Davidson paraphernalia? He might have been keen on bitters for recreational imbibing purposes. Americans were certainly interested in mixed drinks during the years that Bell attended Davidson, and cocktails had a long history. People in England in the eighteenth century were known to mix patent bitters with brandy, and by 1806 the word “cocktail” had developed to mean “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” However, in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, Davidson College was very concerned with limiting students’ access to alcohol. It prohibited the sale of alcohol in college-owned properties, and brought suit against stores that sold spirits to undergraduates. Perhaps Bell was unable to buy bitters for cocktails in the town, and had to resort to making them himself.

Bell might equally have been using “Mother’s Bitters” as a patent medicine. In the late nineteenth century bitters were sold as a remedy for all manner of ills. In 1866, the American Agriculturalist noted that bitters could aid in “weak digestion or a debilitated state of the system, if properly taken under medical advice.” Similarly, Rowney in Boston (1892) spoke to the benefits of “mother’s bitters, made of dandelion root, and such wholesome things.” In her study of alcohol and botanicals, Amy Stewart writes that from the eighteenth-century forward, people “realized that adding wormwood to wine and other distilled spirits actually improved the flavor or at least help disguise the stench of crude, poorly made alcohol.” Chamomile, barberry root and tansy also have practical purposes – all work as anti-inflammatories, and chamomile additionally works as a sedative.  The combination of herbs in “Mother’s Bitters” consequently seem to have been medically beneficial.  Perhaps Bell was in need of an anti-inflammatory, or means of calming an upset stomach. There were several stores on Main Street in the 1870s that might have sold bitters, but the college’s prohibition against the sale of alcohol might just as well have prevented Bell from purchasing them in town.

The Scofield Store

The Scofield Store was one among a few stores that might have sold bitters on Davidson’s Main Street.

So, while he might have been collecting recipes in order engage in an illicit cocktail culture, Bell might also have been trying to make a well-known remedy for a “weak destitution” or “debilitated system.”

Although Bell’s use of the “Mother’s Bitters” recipe can never be known, we can still get at Bell’s experience. I recreated Bell’s recipe, using dried herbs and roots, and steeped the whole mixture in alcohol for two weeks. The resulting concoction was distinctly flavored. It didn’t taste like the bitters we use in cocktails today. Rather, it had an anise flavor, not dissimilar from pernod. This is due to the combination of wormwood (which, on its own has a menthol-like flavor), tansy (which tastes like peppermint), chamomile, barberry root, and star anise (which has a warm flavor, and was often included in absinthe along with wormwood). On a recent Monday night, a group of faculty and staff drank our “Mother’s bitters” in seltzer. We experienced it as a largely medicinal taste, and found that the smell of wormwood did indeed obscure other scents. While knowing what the bitters taste like doesn’t get us much closer to Bell’s everyday experiences of Davidson, it does help us bridge the divide between the 1870s and the present, and to imagine how a Reconstruction-era Davidson student might have imbibed.The finished bitters, a recreation of Bell’s recipe, using dried herbs and roots, and steeped the whole mixture in alcohol for two weeks.

A year of Digital Humanities and the Davidson archives

This week’s post is written by Dr. Anelise H. Shrout, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Studies.

Over the past two semesters, I’ve had the privilege of trying out some new course ideas that blended digital humanities and archival work. The challenge of bringing #dh into archives and archives into #dh is that it can actually be quite a chore to translate historical data – as transcribed in minute books, maps, or letters – into a form that works for #dh visualizations and research. This year, I had two students whose projects used “analog” material from the Davidson Archives to create interesting and captivating digital artifacts, each of which showcased something new about Davidson history. These projects speak for themselves, but I thought I’d say a little about the process that each undertook to get from poring over manuscripts in the rare books room to these digital explorations of Davidson’s past.

Mapping Davidson’s Environmental History

Sarah Roberts, a senior Environmental Studies major, undertook the impressive task of charting Davidson’s environmental development over time. Using maps like this one:

1983-84 campus shrub map.

1983-84 campus shrub map.

– and many more besides, she created a series of visualizations that documented different aspects of Davidson’s environmental history at different points in time. This was not an easy process. For each of the maps she used, she had to trace the outlines of important features (buildings, athletics fields, a briefly-present lake) and color code them according to their purpose.

She brought all of these together in an environmental studies capstone project, but also in a dynamic website which takes users through the spatial history of Davidson College and a bit of the town.

Screenshot of Sarah Roberts' site

Screenshot of Sarah Roberts’ project site.

Mapping Davidson’s Institutional History

Avery Haller, a senior anthropology major also used the Davidson archives, but instead of tracking Davidson’s spatial history, she was interested in the college’s social and institutional history. Avery used the minutes of the Concord Presbytery, the Presbyterian group which was prompted by “the closing of Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington and Lee University) due to a massive fire” to found “a new place close to home to send their young men to school.”

Using documents like this one (which, happily, were transcribed):

Concord Presbytery Minutes-March 1835.

Concord Presbytery Minutes-March 1835.

Avery was able to extract social networks – the ties that bound the various men (and they were all men) involved in Davidson’s founding together (She describes the technical part of this process here).

The finished network with its origin being R.H. Morrison the first Davidson College President who is in darker green

The finished network – the first Davidson College President, Robert Hall Morrison, is in darker green.

Ultimately, Avery concluded that both a close reading of the sources and a systematic analysis of connections among Davidson’s founders revealed “a picture of Davidson … that blend[ed] conservative values and an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Together, these projects point to the innovative work that can emerge when traditional historical materials are deployed in new ways. However, both of these projects took an extraordinary amount of time to accomplish – since before they could begin their analysis, both Avery and Sarah had to render historical “data” legible for digital tools. As one student noted in my class’s final presentations “As most of you have found, data entry is kind of tedious,” but I hope that these projects can help convince students and researchers alike that the intersection of #dh and archives can lead to some fruitful and interesting results.

A Summer of Scanning, Editing, Uploading, and Researching

This week’s post is written by Vera Shulman ’15, a student assistant at Davidson College’s E.H. Little Library. She wrote this entry on August 22, 2014.

This summer I worked as a library information desk assistant. My days were split between staffing the desk, shifting the Library of Congress stacks in the basement, and completing various tasks in the  Archives & Special Collections. My archives duties ranged from perusing local newspapers for filing (in which I was immersed in the excitement and ultimate disappointment of 2008’s college basketball championship) to transcribing oral interviews. I re-housed and filed massive decades-old maps (with help from student coworker Ellyson) and skimmed through Davidson’s 1914-1919 yearbooks and weekly newspapers for references to WWI.

Senior student profiles in the 1915 Quips and Cranks of: Paul Dickson Patrick, Francis Wilson Price, John Harrison Rouse, and Charles Hamilton Rowan

Senior student profiles in the 1915 Quips and Cranks.

The latter task interested me thoroughly due to the very polite and dry humor. By modern standards, though, a slim but noticeable portion of that writing was insensitive to concerns with race and gender. During that time, Davidson College became preoccupied with supporting the national war effort with Liberty Loans and stamps and by training students in the freshly formed Student Army Training Corps (which following the war, turned into our current ROTC).

Page from the 1918 Quips and Cranks featuring a picture of Military students

Page from the 1918 Quips and Cranks.

My favorite tasks, though, were the ones that played to my strengths in visual media. I had a whole set of these responsibilities that all boil down to scanning, editing, and uploading an image for use on the archives website. I processed Davidson’s 2010, 2011, and 2012 yearbooks (called Quips and Cranks); dozens of recent school newspapers (named The Davidsonian), and old editions of July-born author’s works.

Covers of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 editions of Quips and Cranks.

Covers of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 editions of Quips and Cranks, available in the Davidson College Digital Repository.

Because the yearbooks are recent, working with Quips and Cranks allowed me to reminisce about friends and events (and grimace in the case of ex-boyfriends) and better associate formerly unknown peers’ faces with their names. The editing required for the yearbook scanning is very similar to the photo editing I do for leisure, so I actively enjoyed cropping and re-angling those pages. I didn’t form a solid connection with The Davidsonian because I used a closed scanner which didn’t allow me to browse as I scanned.

Trail of a bookworm in Solomon's Song, chapter III

Trail of a bookworm.

The old editions of July-born author’s works are beautiful. The pages were thick and a few grazed on by literal book worms. Some of the covers were marbled in a way that seemed similar to a technique I’d used in primary school for my own book covers. Some illustrations were cartoon, in some the strokes were sparse, and others were both intricate and realistic.

My Final Week as a Student Assistant

This week’s post is written by Emma Kenney ’15, a student assistant at Davidson College’s E.H. Little Library. She wrote this entry on August 22, 2014.

While working at the E. H. Little library for the summer, I had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of projects and departments. I was able to interact with patrons while working at the circulation desk, get further acquainted with the Library of Congress cataloging system while participating in a large shifting project, and, most relevant to this blog, I was lucky enough to be able to spend part of my time in the Archives & Special Collections.

The projects I worked on varied from week to week, so I will refrain from describing every task I performed. Instead, I will summarize my archival activity during my last week at the library as a student employee.

Throughout most of the summer, I have spent my allotted time in Archives working to digitize course syllabi so that these documents could be made available online. Having finally succeeded in un-stapling, scanning, re-stapling, saving .jpegs to a new folder, combining images into a single .pdf, and moving all .pdf’s to a separate folder every last syllabus in my box, I was finally ready to put these syllabi where they belonged: in an online database, where they could one day be accessed by anyone on campus who needs them. While I had been pleased and excited to see my stack labeled ‘finished’ grow steadily, it was even more enjoyable to see that the time and effort I had spent digitizing these documents had made it possible to change the accessibility of these syllabi. This how I spent my shift on my last Monday, working to upload and enter the metadata for as many syllabi as I could.

The following day I was given a list of items by the Archives staff. With new student orientation beginning and the start of classes around the corner, I was asked to locate and pull certain volumes from the Rare Book Room so that they could be put on display for the perusal of our new students. This list included, among other items, ancient cuneiform tablets, volumes of Diderot’s Encyclopedie, and an incunabula entitled Life of St. Thomas a Becket. This list lasted me through the next few days, and each item I pulled was fascinating and beautiful in its own way.

Life of St. Thomas a Becket, printed in Paris in 1495, and one of only six known copies in the world.

Life of St. Thomas a Becket, printed in Paris in 1495 – one of only six known copies in the world!

The incunable was lovely, and somewhat disconcerting. Given the age of the text (its printing date is listed as 1495), I was concerned that handling the volume would cause it to crumble and become ruined, and was therefore very wary of touching it, let alone moving it from its location on the shelf. But upon further inspection, the craftsmanship proved to be remarkable. I could see where the leaves had been sewn into the spine, and the thickness of the vellum encouraged me to be comfortable perusing the text.  It is a beautiful volume, and one I was very glad to have been able to see and handle.

On the topic of beautiful volumes, Diderot’s Encyclopedie certainly outshines most texts I’ve interacted with. These first editions are lovely and quite sizable, dating to between 1751 and 1788. The encyclopedia volumes are paired with planche volumes, which are full of incredibly intricate printed illustrations. It is clear that the amount of effort that must have gone into engraving each plate was sizable, and the resulting prints are breathtaking.

Illustration of a porcupine from Diderot's Encyclopedie.

Illustration of a porcupine from Diderot’s Encyclopedie.

As an Anthropology major, I was intrigued the most by the cuneiform tablets. Dating as far back as about 2350 B.C. with provenances located in the ancient Mesopotamian area, these artifacts are intricately carved and fascinating. While I have no way of understanding the exact meanings of the characters, simply being able to handle and examine these artifacts was such an educational experience. Short summaries of the inscriptions are available for each tablet for those who are interested in knowing roughly what has been recorded on the tablets, but a simple English translation could not compete with the beauty and intricacy of the carvings. Photographs could not do these tablets (nor any of the rare books) any justice, and these carved stones provided a fascinating comparison to the forms of writing that I interact with on a regular basis.

One of the Babylonian cuneiforms in Davidson's Special Collections. The label says, "From DREHEM. A record of the receipt of one heifer calf and other animals for the offerings. Dated about 2350 BC."

One of the Babylonian cuneiforms in Davidson’s Special Collections, pulled for use in Dr. Mark Sample’s DIG 350: History and Future of the Book class visit.

This final week in the Archives, between the culmination of my syllabus project and the explorations of the Rare Book Room, has been one ‘for the books.’ While all of the projects I have worked on have challenged and intrigued me in different ways, I would have to say that the projects of this final week have been the most exciting for me, providing a perfect end to a fantastic summer position.​

A Summer of Scripts ‘N Pranks

This week’s post is written by Ellyson Glance ’16, a student assistant at Davidson College’s E.H. Little Library.

For the bulk of my summer at the library, I found myself in a place to which I had barely ventured, save for the library tour during orientation and the rare instance where a library patron would ask me for directions while I was at the information desk: the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections.

During my time in the archives, I was responsible for various projects and tasks assigned to me by our brilliant and lively archives staff – consisting of Jan Blodgett, Sharon Byrd, and Caitlin Christian-Lamb. Every day I became more and more familiar with the storage, care, and organization of our archives, and never could I have imagined how immense their scope would be. Not only did I get the chance to handle artifacts from both the town and the college, but I also got the chance to actually do some research for the archivists through perusing the archival storage areas. Here in the archives, I could interact with the history of the college I love as well as pass on that information to others via my projects.


One of my earliest, and possibly favorite, projects was the transcription of a lengthy interview with Dr. Charles Dockery, a former French professor at Davidson and the first African-American professor to teach at the college. I was transfixed by his stories and accounts of his time at Davidson as well as his childhood and upbringing, which shaped him into the kind, intellectually curious, and well-spoken man that I heard through my headphones. Aside from being interested solely in the unique and thoughtful subject of the interview, however, I found myself taking a shine to the act of transcribing itself. It appealed to the perfectionist in me, and I embraced the challenge of typing out every single word or utterance within the recording.

Scripts ‘N Pranks

The bulk of my work in archives, however, was in the form of digitization, digitization, digitization! This task, in essence, is scanning, organizing, and cataloging an archival item so that it can be easily accessed on the internet. In my case, I was digitizing the entire archival collection of Scripts ‘N Pranks – a student run joke magazine, spawning from the Davidsonian’s Yowl, and spanning from 1936 to 1965. The editorial staff of the magazine put out approximately four issues a year – though some years, such as the war years, there were fewer – with each issue operating loosely off of a theme demonstrated on the cover.

The magazine itself consisted of humorous poems, short-stories, mini-plays, and cartoons, with the cover of each issue being hand drawn by the Art Director for that year. And, during its run, Scripts ‘N Pranks contained entries from the likes of novelist Vereen Bell and Sam Ryburn, an early editor for whom the Ryburn senior apartment building is named.

The magazines were filled with interesting and thematic student artwork, such as this rendering of celebrities for a political mini-play:

A story in the Sripts 'N Pranks rendering of celebrities for a political mini-play titled, "Christmas Eve in the White House"

“Christmas Eve in the White House.”

But, some of my favorite drawings to look at in the magazine, particularly in earlier years, were the beautiful and richly colored advertisements that the editors would include – though that was, of course, after I got over the initial shock of having a student-run publication appear to be solely funded by cigarette companies.

An advertisement in one of the Scripts and Pranks featruing a woman holding a box of cigaretts saying "After a man's heart...  ...when smokers find out the good things Chesterfields give them  nothing else will do."

“After a man’s heart…”

The majority of these magazines have now been uploaded onto the Davidson College Digital Repository, so that you can peruse, read, and enjoy these marvelous and historical relics yourself.

Behind the Scenes: E.H. Little Library in the Summer

This week’s post is written by Meredith Pintler ’16, a student assistant at Davidson College’s E.H. Little Library.

When I spoke of my summer job at the library to my peers and friends, I often received the “Is the library really that busy during the summer?” question. What most people don’t realize is how much goes on behind the scenes, and I got the chance to experience that during the eight weeks that I worked at the library this summer. The average day involved me working for two hours at the circulation desk, two hours shifting the books in the basement of the library, two hours working in the Information Literacy Department, and two hours assisting in Archives & Special Collections. I would like to share some of the projects that I have worked on during my times in the archives.

Going into the summer, I really didn’t know what to expect from my job in the archives, as the only times that I had been up in the office were to visit the Rare Book Room, a treasure of the Davidson campus. By the end of the summer I had not only been in the Rare Book Room but had also spent a decent amount of time in the archives storage, the archives office, the Digitization Lab, and even the attic of Chambers (now I can check that off of the Davidson bucket list!). I was amazed to learn about all of the material that is kept by the archives and the work that the employees put into maintaining, storing, scanning, digitizing, filing, organizing, and sorting the items. The archives staff (Jan, Sharon, Caitlin, and Craig) know an incredible amount about the history of the college and the items stored in their department. I had many questions and learned a lot about the history of Davidson (from questions about paintings and how the college had acquired them to Davidson campus rules in the early 1900s to information about the first female and international students on campus).

Encyclopedia Articles

During my first few weeks in the archives, I spent time researching the history of different academic departments on campus. Using all of the old catalogs and a book of Davidson’s history, I was able to write a history of the Hispanic Studies, German Studies, French and Francophone Studies, Anthropology, Russian Studies, and Educational Studies departments. As a Hispanic Studies major myself, I was very interested to find out about the history of the department and to see how it has grown and developed since Spanish courses were first offered at Davidson in 1917. These articles, along with many other encyclopedia articles, are on the Davidson Encyclopedia page.  The articles are public and available to provide more information on the history of Davidson College, including articles about buildings on campus, clubs and groups, academics, sports, college presidents, and much more.

Davidson students on a study abroad trip to Spain at the Alhambra in 1989.

Davidson students on a study abroad trip to Spain at the Alhambra in 1989.

Course Syllabi

As the semester begins and professors finalize and hand out their syllabi, many also hand in a copy to the Registrar’s office to be filed permanently. Starting in 2009,  the Registrar’s office begun to collect these syllabi in digital formats. Syllabi before 2009 have only been saved in print form. This summer, several student staff members in the archives, including me, began to scan these syllabi so that they can be made available to Davidson faculty, students, and staff. After the project is complete, everyone with access to the database (all those with a Davidson login) will be able to view syllabi of courses offered over the past decade.

Student History

I, along with other students and archives staff members, searched through college records from 1920-1950 to find information about the first Jewish students at Davidson. Jan Blodgett, the College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator, was in search of the names of the first Jewish students to attend Davidson, previously unknown (although reflected in college statistics). In the end, we found records of seven Jewish students at Davidson in these years. To read more about these discoveries and Jan’s research, please see her blog.


My Role as a Student Assistant for the Davidson Archives: A Glimpse into Past Projects

This week’s post is written by Monica Nelson ’15, a student assistant at Davidson College’s E.H. Little Library.

For the past two months, I have been employed in the library as a student assistant. Before beginning my current position, I was unaware of the breadth of possibilities encompassed in library work. In addition to the circulation side of the library, I have had experience with the Systems part, as well as working in the Davidson archives department. While working on these projects, I have learned a lot about the history of Davidson unknown to me prior and have gained a deeper appreciation for the rich and unique history of the college.  Below I will outline some of the projects that I have worked on through my past two months at the library.

While I entered the job with some base knowledge of Excel and a meticulous eye for detail, I have gained a deeper understanding of Excel, a background in the functionality of websites, a newfound knowledge and appreciation for Microsoft Access, and an introduction to the workings of Photoshop. As you can see, my job as a student assistant for the archives is something new every day.


The college timeline is in the process of an update in order to be more interactive and to highlight events that are integral to the Davidson community and identity. My work on the timeline has included researching events through the Davidson Encyclopedia to add to the events already present on the timeline. I have added links to these encyclopedia pages as well as relevant images and captions to enhance the experience of viewing the timeline. Through my work in the timeline and Davidson Encyclopedia, I gained my first experience of working with HTML and the functionality of websites.

A screenshot of an event on the college history timeline., the event is the Gift and Construction of Chambers with an image of old chambers from 1856

A screenshot of an event on the college history timeline.


College Letter Collection:

The college letter collection contains letters written by people from Davidson, many of which have been transcribed and annotated by Davidson College students. This project represented a transition from letters written only by students, to those by students and community members. My job was to incorporate the students’ work of transcription, annotation, and works cited into a post that included the Finding Aid with information regarding the letter(s), the original letters in scanned form, and an attribution statement which acknowledges the student(s) who worked on the specific letter(s). Once all the information had been integrated, I also had to make sure that the landing pages worked correctly, and this was checked through the links which are present on the posts. Each of the pages also followed a certain layout, so ensuring that all the pages followed the same standardized formatting was also one of my tasks.

First page of a letter by Robert Hall Morrison, Jr. (Class of 1868). with the letter heading, "From Robert Hall Morrison, Class of 1868 (grad.) son of Dr. Robt. H. Morrison, 1st president of Davidson College"

First page of a letter by Robert Hall Morrison, Jr. (Class of 1868).


Postcard Collection into Omeka:

The archives have hundreds of postcards that are associated with Davidson College. Another task I completed was digitizing these postcards so they could be viewed easily via the internet. Using the scans of the images, I uploaded the postcards along with relevant information including title, subject, description, and rights onto a site which holds the postcard collection. This project included working with a spreadsheet of information, as well as the networked “scans” folder (which contains the scanned postcards), and the Omeka platform (where the postcards collection will be housed and available).

One of the postcards added to Omeka, titled "Old Well, Davidson College, Established 1837." It is a picture of the Davidson well next to a tree and two stone benches to the right of it with the chambers building in the distant background covered by a few trees

One of the postcards I added to Omeka, titled “Old Well, Davidson College, Established 1837.”


Summer of Monuments:

A short archival project I completed was called the Summer of Monuments. Wikimedia Commons began a contest called the Summer of Monuments, using the National Registry of Historical Places, which includes four sites related to Davidson College – Eumenean Hall, Philanthropic Hall, the Historic District of Main Street, and the Chairman Blake House. While an image for Philanthropic Hall was already present, my job for this task was to utilize the archives photograph database in order to find relevant images to place on the website for the remaining three historic places.  Once I had located some images and received approval from the College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator, Jan Blodgett, for their use, I familiarized myself with the uploading procedures of Wikimedia Commons and placed the selected images on the website, after formatting them though Adobe Photoshop. Once approved by Wikimedia Commons, these images joined the other historic places on the Summer of Monuments page.


Alumni Citations:

My current project is making the alumni citations available through a database. These awards include the Young Alumni Service Award, the John W. Kuykendall Award for Community Service, the Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Alumni Service Award. In order to complete this project, I am learning learning how to use Microsoft Access and its  various tools (tables, queries, and reports), as well as the continued use of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The final product will be a searchable database which will contain all those who were granted an award, as well as their citation (if present), which will accentuate the great work done by Davidson alumni.

As you can see, my work as an assistant in the archives has emphasized new skills, while building on past knowledge. The work I am doing is assisting in making the College Archives more accessible to a digitally-savvy generation, since all of what I have done can be found on the internet. I hope you will join me in experiencing Davidson’s distinctive history and check out some of the interesting work being done here!

Maps, Teaching and Archival Field Trips

This week’s post is written by Dr. Anelise H. Shrout, a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History.

In my perfect world, all history classes would be taught using archival collections, and all history students would learn not just what historians do, but how we do it. This year, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching historical practice through Davidson’s own archives – and particularly through the Davidson College Map Collection and the William Patterson Cumming Map Collection.

1983-84 campus map, with the locations of shrubs marked

1983-84 campus map, with the locations of shrubs marked

On the first day of classes this semester, (and during Caitlin’s “A Week in the life of an Archivist”) I asked students in my environmental history class to describe the most natural space on campus.  Most mentioned the trees, some talked about the cross country trail, and one mentioned the squirrels, but the overall consensus was that plants and animals are natural, and buildings are not.  At the end of class that day, we walked over to the college archives, and spent the remaining time looking at old maps and pictures of the campus.  We perused a tree map from 1962 and a “shrub survey” from 1984 that meticulously noted the position of the plants that make up Davidson’s “natural” environment.  We saw pictures of the “ghost of Old Chambers” and images of the campus entirely devoid of trees. For me, the most interesting images were the might-have-been maps, which showed proposed, but never realized, alterations to the campus landscape (I’m still hoping that they decide to install the once-planned reflecting pool in front of Chambers!)

The still-visible foundation of Old Chambers

The still-visible foundation of Old Chambers

Pedagogically, this exercise was meant to complicate the rigid divide between “natural” and “unnatural” space, but I think that there was also something useful in showing students documents that shape their everyday lives.  Holding the actual maps that dictated which elms be placed in once place, which bushes in another, and how the two trees I’ve often seen supporting hammocks on the weekend got where they are, remind us of Davidson College’s long history, and the generations of people – both students and campus workers – who worked to shape Davidson’s environment as it is today.

An original plan for Chambers

An original plan for Chambers

Maps – albeit much older ones – animated my second archival trip of the semester.  Students in my survey of U.S. history to 1877 are required to write primary source analyses; the first of which must draw from the William Patterson Cumming map collection.  Unlike the campus physical plant maps, these are digitized, and I probably could have run the entire assignment from my classroom in Chambers, reading digitized descriptions and zooming in and out of the Luna map browser.

But, despite digital availability, there is, again, something unique about seeing, and touching the artifacts that you are studying.  By looking at them up-close, my HIS 141 students were able to examine the differences between maps made for ostentatious public display, and those made for everyday use.  They were able to see the hand water coloring on Emanuel Bowen’s New Map of Georgia and the meticulously drafted (though geographically inaccurate) mountains on Jaques Bellin’s map of North Carolina.

bellinmap, Bellin's "La Caroline dans l'Amerique Septentrionale Suivant les Cartes Angloises," 1764

Bellin’s “La Caroline dans l’Amerique Septentrionale Suivant les Cartes Angloises,” 1764

Going to the archives lays bare one part of what historians do, but perhaps most importantly, these trips to view and touch these objects remind us that the artifacts we often see reproduced in books or in excerpt are real objects, used by real people – and in the cases of some of the maps I have the privilege of teaching with, used to explore North Carolina over two hundred and fifty years ago.